Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.
Edgy, searingly observant, and candid, often heartbreaking but threaded throughout with raw humor and hard-earned wisdom–Persepolis is a stunning work from one of the most highly regarded, singularly talented graphic artists at work today.
I wanted to read this amazing graphic novel for quite some time but couldn’t get a second-hand copy anywhere. I just knew I’d love to own it and a bargain so much easier on the wallet. Then I saw it at the local library – in English. Imagine my surprise. Of course it went home with me. 😀 Now I hope to get my hands on the movie version as well.
I was pleasantly surprised to like the author’s style. It is simplistic in a way, with lots of solid black surfaces. I usually don’t like very dark images, but the style suits the stories perfectly. The graphic novel deals with many dark themes: war, political and religious oppression, oppression of women, racism, bigotry, hypocrisy, exploitation of children, death, political prisoners and torture… Yet there are also uplifting themes: family ties, love, friendship, childhood rebellion, kindness and acceptance. It deserves no less than 5 stars for the honest portrayal of life in turbulent times.
Now, simplicity is the word to describe the graphic style. You’d imagine the characters to appear almost indistinguishable from one another but it is not so. There are small details that bring them to life and make them unique. Just the above picture shows that; the girls might look the same at first glance, yet at a closer look they have different eyes, noses, mouths… It is minimalism at its best, I’d say. You must take your time and study the frames, especially larger ones, and those which comment on the political events to truly appreciate how the author condenses her message.
Marjane is a bright, inquisitive, and rebellious child. She’s got her role models in her parents – they frequently join demonstrations, they host like-minded people, and freely discuss different political views and systems at home. When the situation in Iran changes and rebels take over the country, they are overjoyed at first. They belive they will finally experience true freedom only to have their rights taken away in the name of religion. It is an especially bitter pill to swallow for the mother. The situation only worsens when many of their friends and family have to flee the country. Not to mention that several of them get arrested again, even executed. The dream dies a hard death.
Now, Westerners picture Iran as a very backwards state, a sort of closed in country run by religious extremists, forgetting the rich history and a period of very modern life they led. Not that they are far behind in their technology today, but we tend to write them off as just another of those states where people are living under strict religious rules. It makes little sense for us from secular states where different religions cohabit more or less peacefully. Iran is a warning though that a rapid change from one day to another is quite possible. I found the novel very informative about the history, the everyday lives.
My heart broke when we see how the rigorous restrictions slowly but surely start to erode lives. As Satrapi puts it:
The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself:
Are my trousers long enough?’
Is my veil in place?’
Can my make-up be seen?’
Are they going to whip me?’
No longer asks herself:
Where is my freedom of thought?’
Where is my freedom of speech?’
My life, is it livable?’
What’s going on in the political prisons?
When Marjane is sent to Europe to protect her from the regime and the war, she ends in Austria. her parents thought she’d live with relatives, but the wife of her uncle doesn’t want an additional burden in the house, so she’s sent to a Catholic convent where she lives with nuns at first. Lost in a country so different form her home, with little understanding of German, she is lost. She finds friends at school but they are far from perfect people a vulnerable teenager should spend time with. Some use her to bring them drugs (mostly pot, but still – this is the 80’s), and she’s soon one of those people at school. She does graduate, but her life hits some pretty hard hurdles. I believe she was most happy when she lived with a bunch of homosexual men – they treated her with respect, themselves being victims of prejudice and hostility. Austria then was far less open to emigrants and refugees. They had to accept quite a few of them when war in former Yugoslavia broke out.
I hope we’ve learned better. At least something is being done in the EU now to make life easier for refugees. Italy, Spain, and Greece may be the entry points, but they usually scatter to a select number of countries. The situation today isn’t much different from the one in Persepolis. Middle East is still a conflict zone and when one conflict gets settled, a number of new ones break out. We’ve got Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, with Egypt and Libia on the brink of conflict, not to mention the escalating violence in Gaza. I just don’t get it sometimes. It’s so meaningless – this need for violence just doesn’t make sense. I can only feel the fragility of peace. I may live in the EU but that is not a guarantee for lasting peace.
Now we hear of fighters from Europe joining the slaughter in Iraq and Syria. France is right to take away their right to travel abroad. It may go against freedoms we believe sacrosanct, but it is far better than to do nothing and watch young, deluded, fanatical people join the massacres there. How could we honestly say we wish for peace in the Middle East when we were to let them go there? Sometimes people behave like these countries are their own personal playground where they can live out their darkest fantasies. And that is just sick. Haven’t they suffered enough?
Persepolis should be given to those who think killing is fun. The way Sartrapi describes the conscription of teenagers into the army and the way civilians suffered during the Iran-Iraq war should wake them up. War breaks apart societies, it breaks the spirit of a nation. When you think the world is just looking on and doing nothing to help, your faith in humanity breaks all the faster. The media may be propagating fear of Muslims amongst the West, but that is no way to live our lives. We’re only fellow human beings and we all deserve the right to live in peace and let others live in peace.
When we’re afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection. Our fear paralyzes us. Besides, fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators’ repression.